The Most Detailed Humans Guide Yet

Todd has a few choice words for Cedric Phillips about The Bugler, but he’s got a lot more for you! Get your SCG Dallas plans ready to go, as Todd helps push you to victory this weekend!

SCG Dallas is this weekend, and with it comes a Team Constructed tournament
featuring Standard, Modern, and Legacy. While I will not be playing in this
event, I will be doing commentary alongside Cedric Phillips and the rest of
the SCG Tour crew. And while Standard and Legacy are both pretty sweet
right now, with newcomers Bant Nexus (Standard) and U/B Death’s Shadow
(Legacy), a lot of people have covered them already.

Today we’re going to go hard on Humans in Modern. With the addition of
Militia Bugler, it seems as if the deck has gotten a new lease on life.
Before Militia Bugler, Humans was one of the best decks in Modern, but
would often struggle against an archetype featuring a ton of removal and/or
sweeper effects. Now, it’s significantly harder to grind out Humans due to
Militia Bugler, and the insane advantage you get from chaining it with
Phantasmal Image.

I’ve already done a lot of talking about Militia Bugler on

The Cedric Phillips Podcast

, but I wanted to get everything down in writing in preparation for the
next few Modern events coming up. On top of that, I thought I’d create a
nifty sideboard guide for y’all in case Humans is your deck of choice.
Since sideboarding is often one of the most difficult things to do in a
Magic tournament, I figured this type of article would be helpful. But
before we begin, let’s take a minute to talk about why Cedric Phillips is
wrong, and why Militia Bugler deserves its slot in Humans.

The Aether Vial Effect

Throughout its entire existence as a Magic card, people have been trying to
find ways to make Aether Vial the best card it can be. Tribal decks tend to
build around it, using it as a mana engine to churn out creatures for free.
And in many of those decks, they play creatures designed to replace
themselves so that you can continue using Aether Vial. Generating an absurd
mana advantage with Aether Vial is exactly what you should be doing when
you put it in your deck. You either need to be playing a ton of creatures
off Aether Vial or findiways to use your mana while Aether Vial does a lot
of the heavy lifting.

In Legacy, we see most of the Aether Vial decks using Rishidan Port and
Wasteland to strangle their opponent’s mana, all while using Aether Vial to
play their creatures for free. And before Militia Bugler, Humans used four
copies of Horizon Canopy to continually churn through their deck, finding
more threats for Aether Vial to pump out. In “Death and Taxes” style
strategies that pop up every now and again in Modern, we see creatures like
Eldrazi Displacer or Thraben Inspector popping up more and more as a way
for pilots to use their mana while Aether Vial does its job.

But we used to see both types of Aether Vial use in the same deck.

Cards like Goblin Ringleader and Goblin Matron continually replace
themselves, giving this Aether Vial deck a way to continually generate card
advantage to keep the powerful artifact running. On top of that, they have
Rishidan Port and Wasteland to use their mana on, all while Aether Vial
gives them access to enough mana to make their deck work.

Cedric Phillips has long been a proponent of Goblins in Legacy, a deck that
uses Aether Vial better than any other deck in Magic’s history. So now that
Humans has a card to fill that same role, why is he so adamantly against
Militia Bugler as a card in the deck?

    Win More?

From what I can tell, Cedric’s hatred of the card in this archetype is
based on the idea that Humans doesn’t really need it. And that, above any
other argument, is something I can get behind. After all, Humans was a
standout archetype before Militia Bugler was printed. Does it bring enough
to the table?

  • Irrelevant Body

Cedric seems to think that a 2/3 creature isn’t strong enough at three mana
to include in the archetype. But I think that’s a load of crap. Virtually
every creature in your deck is small when you compare the rates to other
Modern-legal creatures. Sure, we have standouts like Champion of the
Parish, Thalia’s Lieutenant, and Mantis Rider, but every other creature has
two or less power for three or less mana. All our creatures are small, but
most of them do something. It just so happens that before Militia Bugler,
that “something” was disruption or hitting hard as opposed to gaining some
card advantage.

  • You miss sometimes

This is also a load of crap, if you ask me. The only creature it doesn’t
grab is Mantis Rider. Other than that, if you miss, that means you’re
putting lands and Aether Vial on the bottom of your deck. And in that
scenario, I’m almost assuredly fine with that outcome. And if we’re going
to make this argument, ever, let me just direct you to all the times
Collected Company misses. It sucks, but that doesn’t mean the card is bad.

  • Better Options?

Cedric seems to think that there are better options in Modern for this
slot. Before Militia Bugler, we were resigned to playing weird cards in our
two flex slots. People were trying all sorts of stuff, myself included. At
one point, I even had Benalish Marshal in my deck. Whether your flex slots
are Restoration Angel or some other mediocre card, that slot has already
been proven to be mostly irrelevant. The deck can win regardless of what
card is in that flex slot, so long as that card has a body attached to it.

  • Mana Cost

The last argument against Militia Bugler is that the mana cost is too high.
If you don’t draw Aether Vial, three mana is a ton to spend in your deck,
so you want some bang for your buck. This is another point that I also
agree with, but how many Aether Vial decks in the history of the game have
played creatures that are pretty bad when you don’t have Aether Vial in
your opening hand? Flickerwisp comes to mind, but Goblin Matron also seems
pretty bad on the rate for what it does. But anyone who has ever played
Goblins knows that Goblin Matron is one of the best cards in your deck. And
if you have an Aether Vial, it’s basically the only creature you ever want
to draw because it helps your deck keep going after your initial push.

Long story short, Aether Vial is a high variance card. If it’s in your
opening hand, having cards like Militia Bugler around is great because it
gives you more resources to use your Aether Vial more times. And in a deck
like Humans, that isn’t something we really had access to before. Sure, we
would occasionally play Dark Confidant or Thraben Inspector to fill that
role, but they weren’t good enough to justify playing more than one copy or

Recent Changes to the Core of Humans

Most lists I’ve seen as of late are cutting one copy of Reflector Mage, and
I’m having trouble figuring out if this is actually the correct thing to
do. When adding Militia Bugler, you’re adding more cards to the three-mana
slot, so cutting one makes sense in theory. After all, you want to make
sure you can cast most of your spells if you don’t draw Aether Vial. My gut
tells me that Reflector Mage is one of the best cards in the deck, and
cutting one feels wrong. People were cutting one copy from time to time
before Militia Bugler was printed, though, but I’m still skeptical.

Both players in the Modern seat at the most recent Pro Tour cut down to
three copies of Phantasmal Image. Again, this just feels wrong, if only
because it just doubles up as a second copy of your best card. And if we’re
adding Militia Bugler to the archetype, I want as many copies of Phantasmal
Image as possible. Whether you’re just copying an annoyance like Meddling
Mage or giving yourself more firepower by creating an additional Mantis
Rider, Phantasmal Image just seems like the best thing the deck can be

The only reason for cutting a Phantasmal Image, in my mind, is if you think
your opponent is going to be killing every creature you play, thus
eliminating your ability to copy anything at all. These instances are few
and far between, from my experience. At some point, you’re going to find
another creature, and as long as that creature isn’t a Noble Hierarch,
you’re going to want another copy of that card.

But if we’re going to play more than two copies of Militia Bugler, we
certainly need to find some cuts somewhere. At this juncture, our only real
options are Reflector Mage, Phantasmal Image, or one of our interactive
pieces. I’m certainly not trimming on Mantis Rider, mana producers, or our
undercosted fatties. In the past, I’ve cut a Meddling Mage before, but I
don’t plan on doing that again. Not with Mono-Green Tron coming back in a
big way. So, it is with a heavy heart that I am leaning toward cutting one
of either Reflector Mage or Phantasmal Image. There’s no other option that
makes sense. And hilariously, both decks that made Top 4 of #PT25A
thought that the other option was the correct thing to do.

This one intrigues me. I’ve never felt like I wanted another basic land in
the deck, but I can understand the appeal. If your opponent is playing U/W
Control, having a second basic land to get after your opponent hits you
with Path to Exile or Field of Ruin just makes sense. Plus, if we’re adding
Militia Bugler to the deck, having more lands on the battlefield is a good
thing, and making their Path to Exile work in your favor is important.

But why Island over Forest or a second Plains? Well, Noble Hierarch is the
only green card, so I think Forest is out. Plus, Forest doesn’t cast Mantis
Rider. Island makes sense because a second Plains also doesn’t help you
cast Mantis Rider. And if you’re getting hit with stuff like Path to Exile,
chances are you’re going to have a Phantasmal Image stuck in your hand at
some point and being able to snag an Island will ensure you can actually
cast it. Some draws from Humans include a lot of copies of Cavern of Souls
or Unclaimed Territory, most of which need to name Human to cast Mantis
Rider or your off-color Humans. In those scenarios, Phantasmal Image can be
a liability.

I like adding an additional basic land if only to make Path to Exile worse,
but it’s no secret that Seachrome Coast was always the worst land in the
deck. Cutting one is fine.

Throughout its tenure in Modern, Humans has waffled on a few slots here and
there. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is often given three copies, even though
it’s one of the best disruptive elements in the deck. The fact that it’s
legendary is a bummer, but that’s certainly a major downside to the card.
If it weren’t legendary, I can guarantee you that this deck would be
playing four copies.

But Humans is a deck that needs to explode onto the battlefield. If you
draw two copies of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and your opponent doesn’t
kill the first one, that’s one less threat that you get to deploy. That’s
one less counter on Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant. That’s
two less power, at the very least, that you get to put onto the battlefield
to apply pressure. And if your opponent can ignore your Thalia, Guardian of
Thraben, drawing an additional copy means you’ve just drawn a dead card.

I think three copies is correct, but I wouldn’t fault someone for playing
four. I’m just a stickler for making sure we can apply enough pressure.

Sideboarding with Humans

First of all, here’s my ideal decklist for Humans:

Some notes:

  • Damping Sphere sucks. It isn’t a reliable form of interaction
    because every deck it screws over brings in 2-6 answers for it.
    However, it buys you enough time that you might just steal the game
    before they find said answer. And when combined with Meddling Mage
    naming one of those answers, it might just be enough to seal the
    deal. Plus, it’s colorless, and we have a hard time casting any
    non-creature spells that aren’t colorless.
  • Reclamation Sage isn’t a Human, and can be hard to cast sometimes,
    but you need some way to interact with Worship. Otherwise, you’re
    always going to lose to Todd Stevens.
  • Dire Fleet Daredevil is a card I’ve gone back and forth on, but I
    think it’s a home run in the sideboard for a few specific matchups.
    Any deck playing removal and creatures (like Mardu, Jund, etc) is
    going to have a tough time keeping up with Dire Fleet Daredevil,
    and if you ever get to copy it, you’re in great shape.

The Matchups

While there are dozens of decks that are viable in Modern, and you’re
likely to encounter many decks that won’t be on this list, it’s virtually
impossible to properly prepare for all of them. However, I’m going to do as
many as I can before my fingers start to fall off!

First up, the mirror. I expect most people will copy Thiago Saporito’s list
from the Pro Tour.

As you can see from the Top 4 and my list, most Humans decks will look
pretty similar. I think the small edges are important though. For example,
I chose to omit Auriok Champion from my sideboard entirely, as well as not
playing Riders of Gavony from Branco Neirynck. All the small changes in the
sideboard are concessions to specific matchups. I think the mirror is
important, but something like Riders of Gavony has virtually no use outside
of the mirror, where something like Izzet Staticaster is great in other

The Humans mirror can get a little weird at times, but let’s just say that
your most important cards aren’t always the same from game to game. If one
player leads with Aether Vial and the other one doesn’t, the player with
Aether Vial can effectively lock their opponent out of a card while Aether
Vial can still be used to play it. In those games, Meddling Mage becomes a
fairly good card, even though it’s usually a liability in the matchup
because you both play the same cards.



Some problems to note after sideboard is that you’re increasing your
overall mana curve just a bit, but that’s normal. Your disruptive elements
aren’t great here, as Kitesail Freebooter and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
are just overcosted bodies in this matchup. However, if your opponent
starts to put some pressure on you early and you draw too many expensive
cards, it could be lights out. Unfortunately, the way you must build your
sideboard doesn’t give you many ways to do things differently. And aside
from cutting down on some important sideboard cards from other matchups,
you must hope you draw better than your opponent in the early turns.

As the game progresses, you’ll see Mantis Rider become more and more
important, in both stopping your opponent’s as well as putting pressure on
them through the air. I’ve had multiple people ask me if flying was
important enough to keep Kitesail Freebooter in the deck after sideboard.
Chump blocking is not good enough to keep a card around. You just need to
try to match theirs with your own, Phantasmal Image, or Reflector Mage.

This isn’t a great matchup, but it’s one that you can steal on occasion. If
they ever stumble and you’re on the play, the matchup can feel easy.
However, if they assemble Tron early enough, they can virtually lock you
out of the game with their expensive spells. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is
especially hard for a deck like this to beat, but even a single Walking
Ballista can be bad news if they have enough mana.



I’ve seen a lot of people cutting Reflector Mage from the deck after
sideboard, but I think you need a way to get a resolved Wurmcoil Engine off
the battlefield. Like most fair Modern decks, you want as little removal as
you can swing against Tron, but you still want to make sure you don’t
singlehandedly lose to a single Wurmcoil Engine.

Card advantage is not something you really want or need in this matchup.
We’re all about speed and disruption. If we’re able to keep them off
Oblivion Stone or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, we’re usually in good shape. And
while Phantasmal Image isn’t great due to the presence of these sweeper
effects, having a few in your deck to copy Meddling Mage or their Wurmcoil
Engine could make all the difference in the matchup.

Ironworks, much like Tron, is all about speed and disruption. Cards like
Militia Bugler will not shine against decks like Ironworks because they’re
not trying to interact with you. They’re trying to kill you on the third or
fourth turn through your disruption.

Overall, I think this is a good matchup, so long as you’re able to apply a
reasonable clock and draw a few disruptive pieces. Meddling Mage should
almost always name Krark-Clan Ironworks, because their deck doesn’t do all
that much without it. And since most people are moving away from Ghirapur
Aether Grid in favor of Sai, Master Thopterist, your disruptive creatures
are much more likely to survive.



Chances are that your opponent is going to gum up the ground a little bit
with Scrap Trawler and/or Myr Retriever to buy themselves more time. In
these scenarios, some of your ground-pounding threats can become worse. And
in a few of these cases, Reflector Mage would be fine to draw, if only
because they’re unable to cast it on the following turn. However, like most
decks without a lot of creatures, the rate on Reflector Mage isn’t great,
and your sideboard cards are actively good here, so we need to make some

You need to put an emphasis on disruption after sideboard, because they’re
going to kill you faster than you can kill them if you’re both goldfishing.
However, if you’re on the play with a triple Champion of the Parish draw, I
might take the gamble.

Hollow One is one of the scariest decks in the format, no matter what deck
you’re playing. Their nuttier draws feature an absurd amount of power in
the first or second turn, leaving a lot of opponents wondering why Burning
Inquiry is a legal Magic card. Regardless of how you feel about the deck,
it’s certainly one of the top contenders in Modern if only because it preys
on decks trying to interact with it. Resilient creatures mean spot removal
is mediocre, and the sheer speed and consistency of the deck makes combo
decks fear it because their clock is often just faster.

As far as Humans is concerned, I think this matchup is pretty close. You
have plenty of ways to interact with them, and your creatures can often
grow larger than theirs or just fly over. Your disruptive elements, if cast
quickly, can maim their draws entirely or just slow them down long enough
to establish a good battlefield presence. Reflector Mage is particularly
devastating against Gurmag Angler, but is also fine against a single copy
of Hollow One.



Kitesail Freebooter is certainly a fine card in the matchup, but you need
to make room somewhere. Plus, as far as creating a clock or playing defense
goes, it doesn’t do a great job of either. Their most important cards are
creatures, so having Meddling Mage in the deck just makes more sense. Plus,
if you can name one of their removal spells, you might just steal games
with an early Champion of the Parish.

After sideboard, the Hollow One deck will be much more interactive,
trimming on cards like Flamewake Phoenix and Bloodghast. Their goal will be
to kill your more important creatures while still having enough explosive
power with Gurmag Angler, Hollow One, and Flameblade Adept. As you can see,
they have Engineered Explosives, Grim Lavamancer, and Fatal Push that will
all be coming in alongside Lightning Bolt and Collective Brutality. To that
end, Militia Bugler will be significantly better after sideboard than it is
in the first game. Don’t get tricked into thinking card advantage is
irrelevant in the matchup. They’re going to slow things down a bit in hopes
of sniping off some of your early pressure.

Some versions of Hollow One play white in their deck for Lingering Souls.
If you see that in the first game, or any land that produces white, assume
they have Lingering Souls and bring in Izzet Staticaster instead of
Reclamation Sage.

This matchup hasn’t been around much lately, as more people are shifting
towards Mardu Pyromancer. Suffice it to say that these types of decks just
want to kill your creatures and put a clock on you. Your disruptive
elements aren’t all that great or reliable. All that matters is putting a
clock on them and using stuff like Reflector Mage or Thalia, Guardian of
Thraben to buy you more time. Militia Bugler is a huge upgrade here, as any
two-for-one type of card is very much wanted.



Jund will always end in a slugfest where both of you are low on resources.
If they stick an early Dark Confidant, chances are very low that you’re
going to win the game. However, if you can chain together some sweet turns
featuring Reflector Mage or Militia Bugler, you might be able to steal it.
I don’t think this particular matchup is very good, if only because Dark
Confidant is so utterly annoying, but if they have a draw featuring very
few removal spells, you should be able to overpower them.

A lot of people I’ve talked to cut Reflector Mage in this matchup, but I
think that’s pretty awful. Reflector Mage is one of your best answers to
two of their biggest threats. Young Pyromancer is great at playing defense
against you, so slowing it down should be a priority. Plus, if they can’t
attack with their Bedlam Reveler or cast it on the next turn, it shouldn’t
be that much of a problem.

This matchup, again, isn’t great for Humans, but Militia Bugler helps a



I like cutting a lot of your disruption because it just isn’t reliable and
the rate isn’t all that great. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is still awesome
though, and basically forces their hand to kill it. Otherwise, they’re
stuck paying extra for every spell in their deck that isn’t Young
Pyromancer or Bedlam Reveler.

Blood Moon can be troublesome, as they have ways to kill your Aether Vials
in Kolaghan’s Command. And under Blood Moon, your deck can cast very few
spells. I’ve heard tales that some people sideboard out Blood Moon because
you have Aether Vial, and to them I say “lol.”

All your sideboard cards are great here, as they help contain a lot of the
pressure the opponent could put on you. However, you need to make sure you
put as much pressure on them in the early turns as possible, as a single
Blood Moon can ruin the party. This might be a reason to keep some of your
disruptive elements, or even bring in Reclamation Sage, but the odds of
Noble Hierarch surviving is very low, and if they haven’t killed your
Aether Vial, then you don’t really need to kill their Blood Moon.

This is one of your good matchups, but you need to play it smart. Both
sides have a lot of decisions to make, as naming the wrong card with
Meddling Mage or taking the wrong spell with Kitesail Freebooter can lead
to your demise. In my opinion, the first Meddling Mage should usually name
Grapeshot in the dark. Not only does the card kill you, but if they can’t
combo you out, they can just use Grapeshot to kill most of your creatures.
And if you do name Grapeshot, they need to find one of their (very few)
other answers to Meddling Mage to combo off.

However, if you’ve seen their hand with Kitesail Freebooter, consider
naming something in their hand that could potentially allow them to go off.
For example, if your Kitesail Freebooter takes a Gifts Ungiven from them,
let Meddling Mage name one of their ritual effects or cost-reducing
creatures. And if you’ve hit them with a Reflector Mage, feel free to name
that creature with a follow-up Meddling Mage. Just be smart about it.



Cutting Militia Bugler here makes sense because the games don’t go very
long. Even though you could search for a disruptive creature, it might not
be fast enough. Like playing against most combo decks, speed and disruption
are the most important factors.

I don’t like Izzet Staticaster here, even though it can clear Empty the
Warrens. Chances are they’re not going to bother with it because there’s a
chance it doesn’t actually work. Plus, if you use your disruptive elements
correctly after sideboard, they probably won’t be able to make very many
Goblins in the first place.

This matchup is pretty tough, even though you have a lot of sideboard cards
that can come in against this matchup. The problem is that you can
virtually never beat an Etched Champion plus Cranial Plating, and you must
hit them hard and fast in order for them not to eventually find it.

Your disruptive elements aren’t great, your clock gets stifled on occasion
by Vault Skirge plus a way to pump it, and their clock is just faster than
yours with a larger suite of flying creatures. But that doesn’t mean the
matchup is impossible. It just means you have encountered a bad matchup.
That’s why we have sideboards, after all.



After sideboard, we have a lot more blowout effects, but Affinity is fast
enough that sometimes it just doesn’t matter what you do. Much like Hollow
One, their nuttier draws are tough to compete with, even if we have a few
ways to interact with them. Regardless, if you draw an early Kataki, War’s
Wage, or hit them with Izzet Staticaster in the right spot, you might be
able to take down a bad matchup.

This has been a hotly debated deck over the last few weeks. Some people
love it. Others hate it. Regardless, it’s a deck you’ll no doubt face off
against, and it actually has a decent matchup against Humans. I mean, it
does play a ton of removal, after all.

This, again, is another deck where Militia Bugler shines. Card advantage is
sorely needed here, as your disruptive elements are okay but not great. If
they connect with a Supreme Verdict or Wrath of God, there’s not a lot you
can do. Regardless, you must fight through that removal, and Militia Bugler
helps you do exactly that.

Now, a lot of people might move away from Jeskai Control in favor of U/W
Control, but both decks are similar in what they’re trying to accomplish.
U/W Control is a bit harder to beat though, as the removal looks more like
Terminus and other sweeper effects rather than spot removal. And if they
ever hit a Terminus in the right spot, things can go south in a hurry. But
regardless of which version they come at you with, your sideboarding should
be (roughly) the same.



While removal is not traditionally good against control decks, one of the
easiest ways to lose is to get brick-walled by Celestial Colonnade. Plus,
after sideboard, there is a good chance they come at you with Vendilion
Clique and Lyra Dawnbringer/Baneslayer Angel. They expect you to cut
Reflector Mage, so these creatures make a lot of sense. And while Dismember
can rot in your hand for quite some time, if you catch them offguard while
tapping out, the game usually ends on the spot.

The trickiest part about playing against these types of control decks is to
figure out when you can and can’t beat a sweeper effect. Sometimes, playing
out that third creature is important, because it gives them fewer turns to
find that sweeper effect. Plus, if they do have Supreme Verdict or
something similar, that lone creature that you lost probably wasn’t going
to win you the game anyway. The trick is finding the balance, and
especially so if your opponent is going to be killing most of your
creatures in some way or another.

Naming the right cards with Meddling Mage or taking the right spell with
Kitesail Freebooter is also immensely important on occasion, as you can
bottleneck their mana or force their hand. Just play it smart and use your
best judgment. And when it doubt, cross your fingers and hope they don’t
have it.

Whew. I know that was a lot to process, but I hope it helps you in your
upcoming tournaments. I know there are plenty of other Modern decks I could
have included in the sideboard guide, and I will. Just ask if there’s any
particular matchup you want me to give you a sideboarding guide for, and
I’ll do my best to answer every single one. My goal is to give y’all as
much information as possible about the archetype, so if you have any
questions at all, I’ll be around all day doing my best to satiate all your
Human queries.